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Meltzer: Calm before the Storm

Flyers-Penguins set to clash in biggest meeting of the year

by @nhlflyers

Monday night's clash between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center is not about the storied rivalry between the two Pennsylvania franchises. 

It's also not about setting a tone for the upcoming Stadium Series clash at Lincoln Financial Field on Feb. 23. 

Rather, it's all about the here and now: a potential maximum swing four points in the standings. If the Flyers win in regulation, they will move to within four points -- not factoring the regulation and overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker category -- of catching Pittsburgh for a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Lose and the gap widens to eight points. 


Here are five storylines to follow heading into the high-stakes clash:

1. Playing with pace. Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said after Sunday's optional practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees that the Penguins present a little different challenge than many of the team's recent opponents. Specifically, the Penguins attack with a level of pace that one would have to go back to the Dallas Stars game (a 2-1 home win on Jan. 11) to find a comparable opponent in that regard. 

In order combat it, the Flyers will need to do a combination of two things. First, make sure pucks get in deep to keep the Penguins from having short-ice counterattacks. The Flyers have given up a few too many odd-man rushes and breakaways in recent games for the coach's liking. Secondly, the Flyers have to get set up in their 1-2-2 layered neutral neutral zone forecheck and execute it well in order to prevent the Penguins from breaking out of their zone and attacking with speed on entries. 

If done properly, the Flyers could create some Pittsburgh turnovers and get counters of their own.


2. The Big Two. Winning any game against the Penguins entails the chore of containing veteran superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- either of whom is still capable of singlehandedly taking over a game. The Flyers' ability to separate Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier onto different lines with Nolan Patrick centering the third line has been a boon to the club during the current 10-game point streak. 

Gordon said on Sunday that, as he has in many recent games, there may be some game situations on Monday where he might stack Couturier and Giroux on the same line. However, the plan otherwise is to keep rolling the same primary line combinations that have been used in recent weeks. 


3. Special teams play.  On the whole of this season, the Penguins remain one the NHL's most potent power play clubs, clocking in at 23.4 percent success (7th-best in the NHL). The Penguins' penalty kill ranks 10th at 82.0 percent. 

The Flyers have had a recent upswing on their power play, especially a suddenly viable second unit, but the team still ranks only 24th overall at 16.5 percent. On the PK, the Flyers have been greatly improved overall since Thanksgiving but their overall 76.2 success rate is 26th. 

Philly yielded a pair of power play goals -- balanced off by Michael Raffl scoring a shorthanded goal and Nolan Patrick tallying on the power play -- in Saturday's 6-2 blowout win over Anaheim. Against the Penguins, winning the special teams battle may go a long way toward winning the game. 


4. Same personnel likely. Although the Flyers recalled highly touted defense prospect Phil Myers on Saturday and big, speedy winger Justin Bailey on Sunday, Gordon indicated that their respective debuts in orange and black will not be on Monday. 

Gordon wants both players to get in a few practices and absorb some systems details without throwing too much at the players all at once. In Myers' case, his initial appearance will be his NHL debut. 

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